Bile on the Isle

The wild fight between an entrepreneur and the Galveston port for loot from cruise-ship lots

"I believe the use of police power by the port is inappropriate, and I have witnessed this," says Tim Beeton, newly appointed attorney for the company. "Recently some of his employees on Harborside Drive, holding signs advertising the parking lots, were threatened by DPS officers, and so who do you think is making the calls to DPS? I just want the port to compete fairly here."

Tony Brown, the port's lawyer, says there has never been any intent by police to divert traffic to port lots and away from the Dolphin facility. "It's necessary for the port police to regulate traffic on those days" when a cruise ship's in port "because traffic is heavy in that area." Port officials also contend that Dolphin has used off-duty officers to entice customers to those lots.

Several other issues are similarly argued in the dispute, which is headed toward another court date in late January, when Flanagan is expected to present his case that the port is trying to run him out of business.

Beeton says he hopes their differences can move beyond the heated rhetoric. "I think everyone has gotten hot under the collar and we need to finally address this whole thing in a reasonable way." The company has met with city signage officials to try to resolve differences there.

"We want our day in court," Cernak says. "Look, we want to get on with life here. Believe me, we have bigger issues here at the port than competition for parking."

The port, meanwhile, has plans in early 2004 to develop an area adjacent to the terminals for parking, in order to streamline the service for customers. "The bottom line is that with or without competition, we have to do a much better job of serving our cruise-ship customers, so there will be parking in front of the cruise terminal," Cernak says. "I'm sure we'll be accused of doing it only to put [Flanagan] out of business."

That's the one port observation that draws agreement from Flanagan. "These heavy-handed tactics by the port certainly [don't] make this feel like the United States of America," he says. "...I think the public has to be made aware that the port is playing this game by using their resources and taxpayers' money to attack private citizens in this day and age."

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